In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, symbolism is abundantly used in exemplifying the overall theme of murder. There are several prominent forms of this throughout the play. The contrast of light and dark representing good and evil plays a major role in the advancement of events in the play. Blood symbolizes murder and guilt. The archetypal pattern of purification by water is used several times in the play, particularly in the murder scenes. Symbolism is widely displayed in order to achieve the general topic of evil.
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Light and dark represent good and evil in the play. During the time in which Macbeth was written, the king was associated with the sun. The sunset symbolized his death or overthrow. The quotes “When shall we three meet again . . . ” and “That will be ere the set of sun.” (I. i. 1,4) foreshadow the king’s death. The imagery of light and dark continues throughout the play. “Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.” (I. iv. 50-51)demonstrates Macbeth’s step toward evil. Most of the corrupt or unusual events in Macbeth occur under a cloak of darkness. The murders, Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking, and the appearance of the witches all take place at night. Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene is the epitome of the light/darkness symbol. She once craved the darkness but now carries a candle to dispel it. The line, “She has light by her continually; ’tis her command.” (V. i. 19), symbolizes Lady Macbeth’s fear of darkness or evil.
The image of blood plays an important role in the event of Duncan’s murder. It represents Macbeth’s guilt and shame about the horrific crime. After killing the king, Macbeth comments on his blood stained hands by saying, “As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands.” (II. ii. 28) Macbeth refuses to return to the crime scene to smear blood on the guards, fearing the blood will somehow implicate him further. Macbeth feels uncomfortable with blood on his hands. He immediately tries to remove it after killing the guards.
The archetypal pattern of purification by water is prominent in the play. It symbolizes the removal of guilt. Following the murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth reassures her husband by telling him, “A little water clears us of the deed”; (I. ii. 67) Later in the play, Lady Macbeth repeatedly rubs her hands together, representing washing her hands. She hopes to clear her conscience by removing the “spot” from her hand, as she says, “Out, damned spot! out, I say! . . . “(V. i. 31) Water symbolizes the purification of a guilty conscience.
Symbolism plays an important role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It is used in numerous forms to relate the overall theme of murder to the actions of Macbeth. Light and darkness represent good and evil respectively. Blood represents Macbeth’s and his wife’s guilt about Duncan’s murder. Water symbolizes purification of the conscience. These symbols effectively portray the ominous theme of murder in Macbeth.